The Sunshine Economy: Higher Taxes for Teacher Pay

Oct 22, 2018

Two South Florida counties — Broward and Monroe — asked Primary Election voters to approve property tax increases to support public schools. Both questions passed.

Now it's time for round two: Both Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties have similar questions on the General Election ballot; early voting began on Oct. 22.

Here are the details on each referendum:

Miami-Dade County

Where is it on my ballot?

Referendum No. 362.

Ballot language:

"Shall the School Board of Miami-Dade County, Florida, levy 0.75 mills of ad valorem taxes for operational funds (1) to improve compensation for high quality teachers and instructional personnel, and (2) to increase school safety and security personnel, with oversight by a Citizen Advisory Committee, beginning July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, 2023?"

How much?

If approved, the referendum is estimated to raise $232 million per year for four years. The school district calculates that would cost $142 a year for the typical homeowner.

What if it passes?

The Miami-Dade school board has committed to spending 88 percent of the funding on increasing salaries for teachers and other instructional personnel, such as school psychologists and paraprofessionals. The remaining 12 percent would be used for hiring additional police officers to serve schools.

The exact details of how much teachers' salaries would increase must be negotiated with the local teachers union, the United Teachers of Dade. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has said salaries would rise from lower than the national average to higher than the national average, and that increase could be up to 20 percent for some teachers. Currently, starting teachers in Miami-Dade make about $41,000, and the average teacher salary is $47,300.

What happens in the future if it passes?

Carvalho has said the district plans to ask voters to approve another referendum after four years, when No. 362 would be scheduled to expire.

What if it fails?

Carvalho has said that, without the referendum, the district will have little local control over education funding and will have to continue to rely on state legislators to allocate more money for schools. He also warned the district could lose teachers to nearby school districts that are increasing their salaries through referenda. 

Who benefits?

While teachers and instructional personnel in traditional public schools would get raises, teachers in charter schools — which are funded publicly but operated privately — would not. However, Carvalho told WLRN he expects to share some of the funding for police officers with charter schools.

Superintendent's pitch:

"This is the second year in a row where Miami-Dade County Public Schools eliminated F-rated schools. ... So when you have that type of productivity, that type of result, ... considering the economic conditions our teachers face — now is the time to do right and dignify and honor the work that teachers do." — Alberto Carvalho

READ MORE: For guidance on the 105 ballot questions South Florida voters are contending with this election, read WLRN's voter guide.

Palm Beach County

Where is it on my ballot?

Under countywide questions.

Ballot language:

"Shall the School Board of Palm Beach County have authority to levy 1.00 mills of ad valorem millage dedicated for operational needs of District public schools to fund school safety equipment, hire additional school police and mental health professionals, fund arts, music, physical education, career and choice program teachers, and improve teacher pay beginning July 1, 2019 and automatically ending June 30, 2023, with oversight by an independent finance committee of citizens and experts?"

How much?

If approved, the referendum is expected to raise $150 million a year for four years. For a homeowner whose property is assessed at $225,000, with a taxable value of $200,000 after a $25,000 homestead exemption, the new taxes would be about $150 a year.

What if it passes?

Teachers will get supplements to their salary over the next four years. New teachers and ones with up to four years of experience will get $1,000 annually; teachers with five to nine years of experience will get $5,000 annually; and teachers with 10 years or more experience will get $10,000 annually.

The district also plans to hire additional police officers to ensure at least one on every school campus, purchase police equipment like radios, maintain and expand upon a previous investment in teachers for fine arts, career and technical education and physical education programs, and build upon mental health services for students.

What if it fails?

Superintendent Donald Fennoy has said, if the referendum is rejected, it would lead to $50 million in district budget cuts. That could mean increased class sizes. He argued it would be "catastrophic."

Who benefits?

All traditional public schools and teachers in the district would receive funding from the referendum. Charter schools would not share in the funding, which Fennoy argues is necessary to ensure there is accountability for how the money is spent. Charter schools are led by independent governing boards, rather than the constitutionally elected school board, and therefore they are not under direct financial control of the school district.

What happens in the future?

Fennoy said the district plans to ask voters to renew the tax increases again in four years, when this referendum would expire.

Superintendent's pitch:

"Our teachers deserve a living wage. And I think we also have to be very honest with ourselves: As the economy gets stronger, it actually becomes more of a challenge for us to find great teachers. We have fantastic teachers in Palm Beach, and I want to keep them. So we're going to do whatever it takes to try to make sure that they feel valued and they're able to live comfortably here in Palm Beach County." — Donald Fennoy

READ MORE: For guidance on the 105 ballot questions South Florida voters are contending with this election, read WLRN's voter guide.